Diana is one of the most humble women I know, and yet, she is surely one of the most accomplished and driven entrepreneurs of our time. Something she won’t tell you in our interview is that she recently completed The Presidential Leadership Scholars Program. The program is a partnership designed for leaders who share a commitment to helping solve society’s greatest challenges. This program is led by the best minds in leadership studies including the living former presidents and the people who served with them.
Meet Diana Mao, the Co-founder and President of Nomi Network and most importantly, an incredible human being.
Hi Diana. You are such an inspiration to me, personally. Your geniune love and care for people astounds me. It’s such an honor to be able to share this little bit of your story with our community!
Will you tell us a little about what you were doing before Nomi and the moment you knew you had to do something?
At the age of 25, I was a graduate student at NYU learning about issues such as poverty, human trafficking and other pressing global issues. Stats being thrown around were truly meaningless to me until I witnessed the horrors of sex trafficking in Cambodia first hand while conducting research for a micro-finance bank.
The research brought me to some of the poorest and most remote villages in Cambodia. It was there, I met a single father with 7 children. He offered his youngest daughter, no more than 7 to one of my male colleagues. As I looked into the father’s eyes, I could tell that he was desperate and did not really want to give her up. In Cambodia, some children are sold for brutal sex and others are chained to a sewing machine in a sweat-shop.
This encounter left a lasting impression on me.
It is clear poverty is a breeding ground for traffickers to prey on young girls. After coming back, I was determined to do something, and in 2009 I co-founded Nomi Network, an non-profit organization named after 8 year old survivor of sex trafficking. We create economic opportunities for survivors and women at risk by providing entrepreneurship, leadership and technical training to women in Cambodia and India, linking their products to the global market while working with retailers and consumers who seek to purchase ethical products.
What keeps you up at night?
Human trafficking is a $99 billion industry, with 32 million slaves around the world.
Sadly, girls like Nomi the namesake of Nomi Network are being violated repeatedly. My life totally changed in 2008, when I met a young 8 year-old survivor of sex trafficking by the name of Nomi. When I first got to the shelter with Alissa Moore (Nomi’s co-founder), to our surprise a young girl ran to us a threw her arms around me. She said, “HELLO, My name is Nomi, sister what is yours?” As I walked through the shelter with the director, I tried very hard to hold back the tears as he shared Nomi’s story.
Nomi was not only sexually exploited in her village by her step-father but she was treated like an animal and literally locked up. When she arrived at the shelter, she was nonverbal, did not have any grooming habits and did not know how to use the restroom. She drooled all the time and was violent.
Nomi is just one girl but after hearing her story, I knew that if it was only for her sake, I had to do something.
Have there been moments you second-guessed that you made the right decision? Will you tell us about one?
Loss is difficult to grabble with.
The one time, I questioned my decision was last September when one of trainee’s daughters was murdered. This devastated me and for the first time, I thought to myself, “What is the point of all of this when rapist, murderers can get away with it in countries where there is no rule of law and systematic abuse against women?”
What brings you the most joy?
Recently, I had the chance to visit Nomi, the namesake of Nomi Network. Seeing her blossom into an adolescent girl brings me great joy! I got to celebrate her sweet 16th birthday with her and that was the highlight of my year!
Seeing girls like her thrive, brings me great joy.
Do you feel like you’re the same person you were when you started Nomi Network?
Nomi Network has changed my life in extraordinary ways.
I would not have the strength to lead this organization if it wasn’t for God’s presence, love and grace in my life. My faith in Christ has strengthened as I have seen him turn Nomi from a volunteer network in 2009, to a global non-profit organization that is making great progress towards ending modern day slavery.
It has taught me that faith can move mountains.
For example being funded by the Department of State only within our second year of operation (His provision), the change of heart in our women from distrust and behavior problems to mentoring and helping each other when in difficult times (His healing), and the girls that we have been able to send to a boarding school and prevent from being a child bride or sex worker (His divine plan).
How can we best support you and Nomi Network?
Buy her products and donate to help us provide more training and job opportunities!
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us Diana. It’s quite a moving story of faith and hope. It’s an inspiration to us all, to do what we can with what we have.
To more love,
P.S. Nomi’s products will be highlighted on the runway at the socially responsible runway show, Fashioned For Freedom on November 5th, in Dallas. You can also knock out your holiday shopping with Nomi products and many more, in our pop-up shop at the show. Make sure to get your tickets before they sell out again.
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